Mike the Mad Biologist

I’m not the only one bothered by Mudcat Saunders’ article about the Metropolitan Opera Wing of the Democratic Party; maha is too. That post is worth a read, but at the end of the post she makes a very good point about preserving culture (italics mine):

Mudcat has slandered opera fans by implying they are elitist snobs. The fiercest opera fans I have ever met have been regular working-class folks — construction workers, plumbers, clerks. I used to know a lady who worked the counter in a Paramus, New Jersey, department store and who saw every production at the Met. It was her religion. She had to get to the Met by bus because she was too poor to own a car.

But didja ever notice that many of the people who make a big bleeping deal about preserving “western culture” are often the same ones who want to eliminate government funding of fine arts? “Free markets” can’t sustain the fine arts; never could. The costs of producing world-class opera (or ballet, or even just plain old orchestras) exceed what the market could possibly bear through ticket sales. Even the Metropolitan Opera, which fills the house for every performance and mostly ain’t cheap (one nine-performance “season” ticket in a center “premium” seat is going for $3,240 next season) depends on donations and grants for half of its operating costs. All over America there are excellent orchestras, opera companies, etc. struggling along on a combination of ticket sales, private endowments, and government arts council grants, and still barely breaking even if they’re lucky.

Some people get all worked up about preserving “western culture” when they’re worried about undocumented and non-English-speaking foreigners of color sneaking into the country. But when it comes time to pay some taxes so that, somewhere, there’s a real live Verdi opera being performed, or the paintings of old masters are being protected from fading and rot, suddenly they’re a lot less concerned about “western culture.” They’ll pay for a fence, but not for “Falstaff.”

Long ago musicians, composers, painters, sculptures, etc. depended on the nobility for employment and sponsorship. Now that we’ve done away with monarchy, it ought to be up to We, the People, to chip in. So, yeah, almost 20 years ago some guy took a photograph of a statue of Jesus in a jar of urine, and his exhibitor gave him a little prize money paid in part by the National Endowment of the Arts (which I do not believe had anything to say about the awarding of the prize), and the Right still has the vapors about it. But without some tax support, a whole lot of illuminated Bibles and other traditional sacred art would be removed from public view and sold into private hands, and many’s the Christmastime production of Handel’s “Messiah” that would be canceled.

Maybe the opera is ‘snooty’, but aren’t the high point of civilization, not Paris Hilton, what we’re supposed to be fighting for?

Comments

  1. #1 Mark P
    June 13, 2007

    I’m afraid this argument begs the question. Maybe opera and the arts are the high points of western civilization. Maybe they do define western civilization. And maybe not.

  2. #2 Mike the Mad Biologist
    June 13, 2007

    Mark,

    if conservatives are in fact conservers of traditional structures, including cultural forms, then they should be at the forefront of defending opera, which has been popular for several centuries (since the 1600s).

  3. #3 Mike C.
    June 14, 2007

    But didja ever notice that many of the people who make a big bleeping deal about preserving “western culture” are often the same ones who want to eliminate government funding of fine arts? “Free markets” can’t sustain the fine arts; never could.

    They did pretty well during the Renaissance when most artists were forced to rely on private benefactors. Besides, many of the arts being promoted today are hardly fine.

    Still, I could support money for opera–and a fence. Both would cost far less than this worthless war in Iraq or a prescription drug plan for seniors. We could even use the money we’ll save from having to support more Hispanic welfare recipients and high school drop-outs and put it towards opera!

  4. #4 şişme bebek
    June 11, 2009

    if conservatives are in fact conservers of traditional structures, including cultural forms, then they should be at the forefront of defending opera, which has been popular for several centuries

  5. #5 yahoo music videos
    June 15, 2009

    Maybe they do define western civilization. And maybe not.